Earlier this year, we reported on Volvo Trucks’ announcement that its first all-electric heavy truck will be launched in 2019.
Now, experts at the commercial vehicle maker based in Gothenburg, Sweden, have provided Transport News Brief with exclusive insight into the FL Electric project. They explain how it could pave the way for a new generation of electric CVs that will not only cut CO2 and noise emissions, but also change urban transport operations for the better.
“We believe that CV electrification will start in urban transport and city close operations,” says Jonas Odermalm, FL product line director at Volvo Trucks. “We see that as technology progresses there will be further applications. But from a technical perspective urban transport is more suitable when you consider that the daily driving distances are shorter, average speeds are lower, there’s lots of start-stop to recuperate a lot of energy and the vehicles are lighter compared to long-haul trucks. That all places fewer requirements on energy capacity, for instance, but there is also strong political interest in electrifying transport in city centers to improve everyday life.”
“The global perspective is CO2 reduction, but the local perspective is all about city air quality and noise,” Odermalm continues. “Noise levels are becoming increasingly highlighted as an advantage of electric vehicles, both from an environmental noise perspective but also for the people driving and working with the vehicle. Operators will be able to attract the best drivers because the working environment for the driver will be significantly improved. Electric power also reduces noise and vibration levels when you operate around the truck, for instance when you stop to pick up the rubbish.”
Volvo also believes that electric CVs are well suited to increased indoor operations and offer possibilities to improve transport efficiency – shifting work to off-peak hours or night-time operations, for example.
As an application with short, regular routes in residential areas, Volvo envisages refuse collection as one that could derive substantial benefits from the FL Electric. Another is post and parcel delivery or, with the addition of a refrigeration unit, grocery delivery.
Since both the powertrain and the truck’s auxiliary systems – tailgate, waste compactor etc – draw energy from the same source, the truck maker has developed flexible battery capacity consisting of 2-6 packs (100-300kW/h) that will enable operators to optimally configure their vehicles according to specific range and payload requirements.
By way of example, the only major demand for non-propulsive energy from a post and parcel box truck is for a tailgate. Parcel loads are often bulky without being especially heavy, so the truck could have six batteries to get up to 186 miles (300km) of range. Fitting a fridge unit for grocery deliveries would cut into the available range, while a refuse truck driving shorter distances might need 3-4 batteries to still handle the demands of the compactor and substantial payloads.
Anna Thordén, product manager for electromobility at Volvo Trucks, notes that battery performance was but one of the challenges in developing the two-axle, 18-tonne FL Electric. “It weighs much more than a passenger car, the range is longer, there are higher demands on uptime and you have to consider profitability,” she explains. “Lifetime is another consideration – it’s very common to use a truck for at least 10 years. We have the same durability and reliability requirements regardless of whether it’s a diesel or electric truck.
“It’s actually more cumbersome to develop a diesel truck than an electric one because a combustion engine usually calls for a lot of testing, verification and certification,” she continues. “Specific to an electric vehicle are fulfilling electrical safety standards and [additional] electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) testing, because of the high-voltage system. But Volvo Buses has had electric and hybrid vehicles for many years, so we have a lot of experience from those applications. Many of our driveline components are shared with buses and we had already built special rigs for battery and electric driveline testing.”
The precise requirements will vary according to the application, but Thordén expects the FL Electric’s maintenance requirements to be simpler than for a diesel, too. “A combustion engine is a big part of the maintenance work on a diesel truck today,” she notes. “An electric truck contains fewer moving parts so less wear and tear is to be expected.”
The FL Electric can be charged via a 22kW AC charger, or a 150kW DC charger using the Combined Charging System (CCS) Type 2 standard. Charging requirements will depend on how the truck is used. The AC charger will suffice for overnight charging and uses a regular 32A, 3-phase industrial socket. Recharging more than once a day will likely require the DC fast charger, either at the depot or through public charging infrastructure.
A handful of FL Electrics will enter commercial operations later this year. The experience gained will feed into the series production models, the first of which are due to roll off the line in 2019 destined for major European markets. Right-hand drive will be part of the production mix from day one. “The UK is an important market for Volvo Trucks,” Odermalm confirms. “There is also strong interest in zero-emissions vehicles in the London area in particular.”
As both the market for electric CVs and the associated technology evolves, he expects electromobility to move into other market segments, applications and territories.
“A lot of things will impact the pace of adoption of electromobility including legislation, political interest and the bottom-line effect – the impact on the operator’s business.
“One important point is the balance between the price of electricity and the price of diesel,” he adds, “the bigger the difference, the more sense it makes for the operator to convert to electric purely from an economic point of view. On top of that is the question of whether there are financial incentives in place: in Norway, passenger-car incentives have led to a high penetration of electric cars, for example. I think CV electrification will be a global phenomenon, but different markets will move at different speeds.”